It only takes one spark to start a wildfire. That’s exactly the role that sixteen-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, is playing in a growing youth movement calling for climate action. A young Swedish political activist, Thunberg started skipping school back in August 2018 to protest for the planet, outside of the Swedish parliament building. Her “skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for climate) poster was with her as she sat on the ground alone. Now, months later as her single act turned into a movement, Thunberg excitedly states, “It’s more than 71 countries and more than 700 places, and counting”.
It’s not surprising that someone so young could be so passionate; the image of teenagers wasting their time has perpetuated for too long. Time after time, protests, movements and acts of civil disobedience seem to be the only way to call neglecting adults to address our world’s most pressing issues. From Claudette Colvin taking a seat before Rosa Parks during the Civil Rights Movement to the response of teens like Emma González and David Hogg in Parkland, Florida, the voice of the youth is truly powerful.
As the co-founders of the Climate Defense Project recently wrote in The Hill, “Civil disobedience is necessary to clarify the stakes and scope of the climate justice struggle. Protest exposes exploitation, while legal action expands the scope of rights. We need both to win this fight.”
During last year’s “March for Our Lives” mass protests, the entire nation of students dropped their books to walk out during the March for our Lives movement, urging students to question current gun laws and propel reform. This same month, Thunberg’s #FridaysforFuture walkout events inspired youth far and wide from her school in Sweden. The Global Climate Strike, held on March 15, inspired students in more than 100 countries.
Not all adults are negligent of this pressing matter, however, as politicians like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Ed Markey, and more (91 house representatives and 12 senators signed on as cosponsors) have been trying to pass a bill that would start addressing the issues causes the climate panic. Recently, their efforts to pass the bill in the Senate failed. But what angered Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez were those who would not vote for the resolution. She proclaimed climate change is “not an elitist issue”, according to The Guardian, in response to their actions. Her comment was directed towards Republicans who mocked the Green New Deal and neglected the urgency of the issue.
Nevertheless, more youth are taking action on this pressing issue, which leads to their motivation as to why they are striking in the first place. Students are the faces of the Global Climate Strike. Evidently, scientific reports and bizarre weather patterns are reason enough to believe climate change is happening. Writing in the BBC, Chad Frischman, the vice-president and lead researcher for Project Drown, argued there is an urgency to address climate change. He argued that climate change is, “a meta-problem that exacerbates most other challenges that keep us up at night – from sea level rise or the loss of natural resources to increased conflict, poverty, and gender inequality”.
Greta Thunberg started the #FridaysforFuture movement that later inspired millions of teens worldwide to protest against the lack of action from many adults. The Global Climate Strike is an important emblem of what needs to be done to save the planet. It’s having an immense impact on all who participate in it, from all around the world. Thunberg did not just skip school for a couple of trees, she and others are worried about the lack of action that seems to never be addressed. The movement is a testament to the power youth can have, given all the media and attention it has gather— which is exactly what organizers want.
The public and Congress apparent needs to be reminded of the magnitude of their actions for the climate, one that will affect the protestors and the next generation to come. According to the #FridaysForFuture website, the reasons that motivated her and many other teens are as follows:
School children are required to attend school. But with the worsening Climate Destruction, this goal of going to school begins to be pointless.
- Why study for a future, which may not be there?
- Why spend a lot of effort to become educated, when our governments are not listening to the educated?
Students are more worried about the future than their academics, which they have long been taught should be the focus of their existence. Stepping out of this box, more and more students are realizing the weight of the older generation’s actions and the predicament they face if there is a failure to act.
Overall, more youth are getting involved in the movement despite the fact they cannot vote themselves. These 15, 16, 17-year-old teenagers and younger will soon come to the age however when they get to choose who makes the decisions for their generation. Profoundly stated by Vox Media, “soon enough, these schoolchildren will be old enough to vote, and public officials will have to answer to a highly-motivated bloc for what they did or didn’t do to address a foundational problem for the next generation.”
According to CNN, 17-year-old Toby Thorpe has organized a strike in Tasmania because he wants future generations to enjoy the island’s natural beauty.
“I’m very lucky to come from a place like this and that’s why I became an activist,” says Toby Thorpe.
Also according to CNN, Seo-gyung Kim, a high school student in the South Korean capital, Seoul, came to climate change activism via nuclear power protests.
“My mom was a science teacher. She explained how nuclear power plants work when I was a primary student,” says Kim, adding that when she learned that water used to cool nuclear plants is returned to the ocean, Kim became concerned about marine pollution.
As reported in The Guardian, Jean Hinchcliffe, 14, striking in Sydney, said on the Today Show: “I have been really frustrated and really angry about the fact I don’t have a voice in politics and I don’t have a voice in the climate conversation when my politicians are pretty much refusing to do anything … So I decided to strike and … suddenly us kids are being listened to and that’s why we continue to strike and feel it’s so important.”
These students and many more will not stop until actual actions are taken to restore the Earth and stop the damage that their generation will inherit in the very near future. Many movements and strikes like these provide hope for the future, but there has to be something more tangible than just that.